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File Transfer Protocol is a standard network protocol used to copy a file from one host to another over a TCP/IP-based network, such as the Internet. FTP is built on a client-server architecture and utilizes separate control and data connections between the client and server. FTP users may authenticate themselves using a clear-text sign-in protocol but can connect anonymously if the server is configured to allow it.

The first FTP client applications were interactive command-line tools, implementing standard commands and syntax. Graphical user interface clients have since been developed for many of the popular desktop operating systems in use today.

The protocol is specified in RFC 959, which is summarized below.

A client makes a TCP connection to the server's port 21. This connection, called the control connection, remains open for the duration of the session, with a second connection, called the data connection, opened by the server from its port 20 to a client port (specified in the negotiation dialog) as required to transfer file data. The control connection is used for session administration (i.e., commands, identification, passwords) exchanged between the client and server using a telnet-like protocol. For example "RETR filename" would transfer the specified file from the server to the client. Due to this two-port structure, FTP is considered an out-of-band, as opposed to an in-band protocol such as HTTP.

The server responds on the control connection with three digit status codes in ASCII with an optional text message, for example "200" (or "200 OK.") means that the last command was successful. The numbers represent the code number and the optional text represent explanations (i.e., <OK>) or needed parameters (i.e., <Need account for storing file>). A file transfer in progress over the data connection can be aborted using an interrupt message sent over the control connection.

FTP can be run in active or passive mode, which determines how the data connection is established. In active mode, the client sends the server the IP address and port number on which the client will listen, and the server initiates the TCP connection. In situations where the client is behind a firewall and unable to accept incoming TCP connections, passive mode may be used. In this mode the client sends a PASV command to the server and receives an IP address and port number in return. The client uses these to open the data connection to the server. Both modes were updated in September 1998 to add support for IPv6. Other changes were made to passive mode at that time, making it extended passive mode.


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